NATO Launches Air Exercises Over Balkans to Halt SerbsBy William Drozdiak
The Washington Post
NATO defense ministers Thursday ordered allied military authorities to launch air exercises in Albania and Macedonia to escalate pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt the crackdown on ethnic Albanians in neighboring Kosovo.
The show of air power, which could start within days, is intended to demonstrate NATO strength in the region while avoiding direct Western military intervention.
"Milosevic has gone beyond the limits of tolerable behavior," NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said. "We are showing that we are willing to back up international diplomacy with military means."
Solana said the 16 NATO defense ministers also would ask military planners to draw up detailed plans for additional steps, including possible airstrikes in Yugoslavia, if Milosevic does not back down. He said NATO has three goals: to prevent the violent expulsion of refugees, to end the violence and to encourage serious negotiations between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo is a southern province of Serbia, the largest of Yugoslavia's two remaining republics, where Serbs are outnumbered 9-to-1 by ethnic Albanians but control government and security services. The Albanians were stripped of their autonomy in 1989.
The conflict erupted in February, when Yugoslav army and Serbian police units began an offensive against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been attacking Serbian targets in an effort to win independence. More than 250 people have been killed and tens of thousands left homeless in the fighting, which intensified in late May when Serbian forces launched an all-out campaign to clear the Kosovo-Albanian border region of guerrillas. At least 10,000 refugees have since fled to Albania.
After reviewing what has evolved into Europe's worst security crisis since the 1992-95 war in Bosnian, the NATO ministers expressed concern that the situation in Kosovo had "deteriorated seriously in recent days" because of a "new level of violence" by Serbian security forces.
The ministers called for the protection of civil rights for all of Kosovo's ethnic groups and the restoration of autonomy to ethnic Albanians while preserving the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia - in effect, siding against ethnic Albanians' demands for independence.